Education news

Continued investment in ‘stem' skills essential in post-Brexit age

Gareth Reid from Grosvenor Grammar School, Belfast and Clara Deehan from St. Joseph's, Donaghmore with Sentinus chair Jim Stewart

AN educational charity has urged the north to do more to improve the `stem' skills of young people.

Sentinus warned that "average" was not good enough and that there was a need to "do better".

A recent survey of 15-year-olds showed that the performance of Northern Ireland pupils in maths, reading and science remained stable.

The latest results of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) highlighted continued need to tackle underachievement, however.

Coordinated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), PISA results provide international benchmarks in mathematics, reading literacy and science in 72 countries.

Pupils in Northern Ireland were found to perform above the OECD average in science but were at the OECD average in mathematics and reading

Sentinus said it believed that rather than being distracted by the potential impacts of Brexit, over which people had little influence, it was vitally important to increase commitment to developing STEM skills from an early age.

There was also a need, the charity said, to increase the promotion and uptake of the stem subjects and address those areas of underachievement highlighted by PISA.

Sentinus chairman Jim Stewart said in the post-Brexit climate, further education and skills had become an even more vital component for the future of Northern Ireland's economy.

"While it is pleasing to hear from our PISA report card that the proportion of 15-year-olds who aspire to a career in science is greater in Northern Ireland than the average across OECD members, our results have not demonstrated significant improvement," he said.

"We simply must do everything we can to ensure our students are `better than average' in future tests."

It was evident, he added, that there was still some way to go to achieve an education system which could compete with those of the Far East.

This would ensure that there was a steady flow of skilled talent to support the new knowledge economy and also compensating for our peripheral location in Europe.

"Recently, Professor Neil Gibson, director of the Ulster University's Economic Policy Centre, emphasised the importance of our politicians not being simply distracted by Brexit and instead addressing the long-standing economic challenges in Northern Ireland, which remain a priority whether we are inside or outside the EU," Mr Stewart added.

"As he suggests this is especially when considering `non-student inactivity rates, low productivity and the high numbers of school leavers with low or no qualifications'. These all impact on skills availability and we would urge the Executive to focus their energies on areas like this, over which we have full control, as we stand to gain more from it economically in the medium to long term."

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